Microsoft reveals change in data centre chip choice

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Microsoft is set to make a major change in the hardware used to power its Azure data centres.

According to people familiar with the deal, Azure will soon use Xilinx chips as co-processors in more than half of its own servers, replacing chips made by Intel's Altera unit that was previously the exclusive provider for the company's cloud business. Co-processors are chips that help relive the main processor in a server by accelerating some functions.

Xilinx has not commented on the rumoured deal though Microsoft has said that it will continue its relationship with Intel in its current offerings with a spokesperson for the company, saying:

“There has been no change of sourcing for existing infrastructure and offerings.”

The rise of programmable silicon in data centres

Before Xilinx's chips are widely deployed, they will have to achieve performance goals according to one of the people with knowledge of the deal.

Programmable silicon has primarily been used in cellphone base stations but now these chips are finding new life as operators of large computer networks use them to speed up some workloads. Intel acquired Altera back in 2015 for this same purpose as the chipmaker looked to give its main Xeon server processors more flexibility.

Xilinx is trying to find its place in the growing market for data centre components as tech giants such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon have begun purchasing large numbers of server chips. These companies are also looking for alternatives to standard processors as a means of increasing the efficiency of their data centres.

Intel's programmable chip business saw a gain of six per cent during the third quarter with $496m in sales while Xilinx reported a 19 per cent jump in revenue last quarter.

Via Bloomberg